Saturday, 24 December 2016

Top Ten Theatre Productions in 2016 - Musicals & Cabaret

It was an oddly muted year for musicals in 2016. The top end was spectacular as always with WAAPA’s exceptional The Drowsy Chaperone only pipped for top honours by the unstoppable La Soiree road train.

The Academy features in this category as it does every year joined by local independent powerhouse Holland St Productions. Rachael Beck returns after last year’s Next to Normal and Fringe proved to be a reliable source of musical theatre flavoured entertainment.

1. La Soiree – La Soiree Australia

“In a show of jaw dropping brilliance there was one unmistakeable conclusion – not only is this troupe comprised of superb entertainers but they also count among their number world class athletes.”

2. The Drowsy Chaperone - WAAPA

“The show ticks all the boxes – gorgeous production values, a witty script, fabulous performances across the board, a fun score, and above all it is consistently laugh out loud funny. At a brisk 100 minutes with no interval it is utterly infectious and a complete triumph.”

3. Bring It On - WAAPA

“This was a pulsating show that matched the energy of its performers, was a visual feast, and sounded great. In many ways all these elements elevated what is really a paper thin plot and made it compelling.”

4. Rent - WAAPA

“Standout performances by Kelsi Boyden, David Cuny, Tom New, Finn Alexander and Mackenzie Dunn with the band in cracking form under MD Timothy How, especially guitarist Jack Maher and excellent use of my favourite venue in Perth, The Roundhouse Theatre by director Adam Mitchell.”

5. This Girl – Rachael Beck

“Bringing star power and more than a touch of class Downstairs At The Maj, Beck sings beautifully, looks stunning, and exhibits a wonderfully self-deprecating sense of humour and playfulness.”

6. Gutenberg the Musical! – Holland St Productions

“… this is a must-see for everybody who has a dream, loves the written word, and enjoys a smart parody of the musical theatre form. Plus hats. If you love hats you'll LOVE this!”

7. Dr. Felicity Rickshaw’s Celebrity Sex Party – Holland St Productions

“One signature aspect of any Holland St Productions show is how film literate the driving creative forces, Tyler Jacob Jones and Robert Woods are. It’s tantalising then that a musical comedy is packed with allusions to well-known recent and not-so-recent movies with ‘cameo appearances’ by many a celebrity, most notably Keanu Reeves (Jones), Madonna (Taylor) and a pitch perfect Meryl Streep (Hutchinson).”

8: Impromptunes: The Completely Improvised Musical - Impromptunes

“One of the beauties of Impromptunes is that no two shows will ever be alike. It’s the genius of the premise that sees a completely self-contained one hour musical performed every night. Not even the cast know what’s going to happen or even what the topic is going to be.”

9: Best Bits - WAAPA

“Two immediate thoughts after having a wonderful time this afternoon with this iteration - The Drowsy Chaperone has to be remounted by WAAPA IMMEDIATELY! and the 2016 MT class give the best critique of The Beautiful Game, bar none. Impressive perception amongst the hilarity.”

10. Sincerely Yours, A New Musical – Stray Cats Theatre Company & Mad Cats Theatre Company

“… this was a mature and accomplished piece of musical theatre with an excellent score and well delivered songs that had some great moments of genuinely affecting dramatic acting.”

Male Performer of the Year - Ashley Roussety

Immediately set the tone as Man in Chair during the opening sequence of The Drowsy Chaperone and gave an immensely warm and entertaining portrayal that powered the show. Amusingly reprised the role narrating Best Bits.

Female Performer of the Year - Lisa Adam

A standout in the wildly uneven Clinton the Musical with a funky and energetic portrayal of the former First Lady. Displayed excellent comedic chops though the last laugh may end up being on us all given recent events.

Special Mentions:

Andre Drysdale (Sincerely Yours, A New Musical and The Beautiful Game)

Stefanie Caccamo (The Drowsy Chaperone and Bring It On)

Stephanie Wall (The Drowsy Chaperone)

Hannah Burridge (Bring It On)

Rachael Beck (This Girl)

Scott Hansen (Footloose)

Kelsi Boyden (Rent)

Thank you and good night!

Richard Hyde

Top Ten Theatre Productions in 2016 - Plays

What a stellar year it has been for plays. There were a few shows desperately unlucky not to make the top ten including a couple from WAAPA’s 2nd year acting class which had an excellent 2016.

Another feature is the prominence of one person shows; a couple from Fringe, another at the tail end of The Blue Room’s 2016 season. Black Swan also had a good showing in Kate Cherry’s final year at the helm as did independent company The Last Great Hunt.

There was magic, myth, the deconstruction of male stereotypes, and a brutally authentic exploration of rape culture.

1. A View From The Bridge - WAAPA

“Rotondella as Eddie gives one of the finest performances I have seen at WAAPA in the last few years. There are so many layers revealed from the forthright, cocksure man’s man who is confident in his position and status to the slow unravelling of that certainty as Eddie’s pre-eminence is questioned by all around him.”

2. Project Xan – Jedda Productions

“Powerful, confronting, and deeply moving I was shattered. I apologise to all involved for not staying for the Q&A but it's one of the rare times I had to immediately find space to breathe and think.”

3. 17 Border Crossings
– Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental

“… a superb exhibition of storytelling and stagecraft.”

4. Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches – Black Swan State Theatre Company

“Black Swan’s production is a finely acted and stylish piece of theatre that befits the rightly lauded writing. The first half of this preview flew by in a dazzling 90 minutes. The second half gets a little funky as the hallucinations and visitations become bolder until it all ends in a crescendo that has you wishing Part Two was but a dinner break away.”

5. The Caucasian Chalk Circle – Black Swan State Theatre Company with The National Theatre of China

“This sumptuously visual and aurally rich production is the first international collaboration for Black Swan in conjunction with The National Theatre of China. Written by German playwright Bertolt Brecht, directed by Dr Wang Xiaoying, and featuring an Australian ensemble it is a fascinating mixture of storytelling styles and culture.”

6. The Great Ridolphi – The Last Great Hunt

“Beautifully crafted script, cleverly staged, and supremely acted by Steve Turner. This is the local answer to Thaddeus Phillips' 17 Border Crossings. Both are examples of stellar theatrical storytelling and indeed could be companion pieces.”

7. Bambert's Book of Lost Stories – Barking Gecko Theatre Company

“With great skill, imagination, and the power of words you really can create magic under the moonlight.”

8. The Matchmaker - WAAPA

“Every year there is always at least one show that turns out to be an unexpected gem. Make no mistake, The Matchmaker by the 2nd year acting students is one of them. Very funny with so many excellent performances this farce truly sparkled.”

9. Grounded – Red Ryder Productions

Another tour de force one person show this time with Alison van Reeken exploring the murky ethics and personal cost of drone based warfare.

10. Fag/Stag – The Last Great Hunt

“This is well written and performed with the most impressive aspect being the expert execution of changes in mood as the story deepened and headed in unexpected directions.”

Male Performer of the Year - Giuseppe Rotondella

Outstanding in A View From The Bridge with a layered performance that was riveting as he runs the gamut from machismo to gut-wrenching anguish. The slow disintegration of Eddie before our eyes is superbly handled.

Female Performer of the Year - Jo Morris

Gave an excellent performance as Valium addicted, hallucinating housewife Harper in Angels in America. The second half featured the bravura Antarctica sequence which was a sheer joy of performance and technical execution.

Special Mentions:

Steve Turner (The Great Ridolphi & The Caucasian Chalk Circle)

Thaddeus Phillips (17 Border Crossings)

Rhianna McCourt (Three Sisters)

Alex Malone (The Caucasian Chalk Circle)

Will McNeill (A Tale of Two Cities)

Alison van Reeken (Grounded)

Brittany Santariga (A View From The Bridge)

Well, that's me done. Have a great Christmas everyone and while I may not be reviewing anymore I'm sure I'll see you around the traps with Fringe fast approaching.

Richard Hyde

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Highlights of 2016

As the end of the year rapidly approaches and this blog eventually wraps up with the publishing of my Top Ten Lists on Boxing Day, I thought I’d reflect on some highlights from 2016.

Who would have thunk it, me, on the main stage at the Heath Ledger Theatre, not once but twice! First, it was to present certificates at the 41st Annual Robert Finley Awards in January. Then at the 42nd Robert Finley Awards last night to announce the recipient of the Yvonne Hough-Neilson Award (that went to playwright Noel O’Neill) and nine certificates. It was an honour to be an ITA adjudicator for the last two years and both Awards nights were a real pleasure to attend and be a part of.

February saw the first of three trips over east for theatrical purposes. It was a delight to watch Broadway star Sutton Foster headline the Defying Gravity concert in Sydney and speculate on the pronunciation of Aaron Tveit’s surname. Aussie David Harris and Joanna Ampil also made impressions as the work of Stephen Schwartz was given a triumphant work out.

Now, I am a HUGE Prince fan but I had never seen him perform live. Therefore the Prince concert in February was an absolute highlight. Thankfully I had a ticket bought for me while I was on a plane (thank you, Sarah!) and we had excellent seats. Prince was the consummate performer and had the Perth Arena crowd in the palm of his hand. A little less than two months later he was dead in one of the tragedies of the year.

I was flattered to be asked to be the adjudicator for Blak Yak’s 24 Hour Script Project in April. Held at Rigby’s in the city on a stormy old night it turned out to be an entertaining evening with many excellent performances and well written plays given the time constraint.

One of the more ambitious undertakings of the year came from the theatre hothouse that is Murdoch University. Murdoch Theatre Company, From The Hip Productions, and Second Chance Theatre combined with Nexus Theatre to produce The Gothics Trilogy in July. Three plays based on the classic horror characters Dracula, The Mummy, and Frankenstein’s Monster, performed sequentially in only a three week window. Driven by John King, Tim Brain, and Scott McArdle it was a bold endeavour rarely seen in independent theatre.

I went on my third annual Melbourne musical theatre junket in July. One of the unexpected outcomes was the discovery of Amy Lehpamer who was wonderful as Maria in The Sound of Music. But the real highlight was seeing recent WAAPA graduates in that show (Du Toit Bredenkamp, Sophie Cheeseman, and William Groucutt, all 2014 graduates) and especially the five 2015 graduates – Matilda Moran, Matthew Hyde, Rosabelle Elliott, Alex Thompson, and Joel Granger - in the fabulous Titanic the Musical at Chapel Off Chapel. It is such a thrill to see graduates doing so well in the early stages of their professional careers. It was also lovely to talk to Matilda, Matthew, Rosabelle, Alex, and Joel afterwards to be reminded not only are they all supremely talented but genuinely nice people as well.

Likewise during Sydney trip number two in August to see 2015 graduate Heather Manley (and 2014 grad Max Bimbi) in Aladdin at the Capitol Theatre. Heather was understudy as Princess Jasmine but I saw her playing one of the Attendants in the huge Capitol Theatre. It was great to catch up briefly and meet her proud parents after the show at the Stage Door who had travelled all the way from Guam. I understand Heather would later go on to play Jasmine several times in this spectacular production.  

Then there was the venture into community theatre Sydney style on the same trip. I caught the train out to Bankstown to see two friends who were starring in Chess the Musical. I had no idea what to expect both in terms of venue (a converted swimming centre I believe) and the quality of execution. I found it to be pretty much the same as any upper echelon community theatre production in WA and wouldn’t have been out of its depth at the Finley Awards. The night was enhanced by the revelation that the son of one of the managers at the company I work for has a fabulous singing voice.

2016 was another great year but after seeing 153 productions I must confess to a certain degree of exhaustion. This is after ‘resigning’ from reviewing in July to concentrate on a screenwriting project. I’m glad I 'slowed down'!